Heather Small | Women In Music Conference | 28.03.19


Heather Small was a keynote speaker at the Women In Music Conference which was an event organised by the Musician’s Union. The conference took place on Thursday 28th March 2019 at HOME Manchester.


Tweets From The Event

“I just loved singing. I loved the way it made me feel” - Heather on how she got into music, replying to an ad in a Melody Maker and going to an audition with friends.

“I was very shy. I wouldn’t put myself forward. When you’re with your people, you’re not shy. It’s a safe space... Sometimes people tell you who you are, and you have to ignore that” - on taking her first steps.

“The best revenge? Be happy and be successful” - on those who doubted her when she was young.

“You want to make music for other people. Music is a very inclusive thing” - talks about her first career highlights, doing her first signing, her first gig with M People at the Hacienda, Glastonbury & feeling like a pop star.

“People think taking advantage is physically telling you what to do... I’ve always had to stand up for myself. I’m a working class of Black immigrant parents from a council estate... But the discrimination is subtley voiced.”

“The glass ceiling isn’t even glass, because you can’t even see through it.” -on gender equality in the music industry.

Heather talks about her experiences recording a solo album after working in the band & the myriad ways discrimination manifests. “It is subtle” - for example being labelled a diva for having a rider. “People try to make something out of nothing.”

“With experience, you know how to deal with things. There’s no shortcut to experience... I think you have to be firm. I think you also have to be serious in your intention. When you say something, sometimes you have to be unpretty & not that nice.”

“I think it’s arming yourself with an aura of business” - it’s not about the way you dress, it’s your demeanour. Listen to your heart and your head. “We can’t play pretty and we can’t play nice.”

Heather talks about her influences, beginning with her Mother: “If there’s a problem, there is a way to fix it. It may be difficult, but you roll your sleeves up and get on with it.”

She also talks about Nina Simone and her ability to convey emotion and experience in her music, Maya Angelou and her openness about making mistakes & learning from them, and Grace Jones and her creative intent.

“You give people their due. To be able to sing, to write, to perform, to play an instrument - you are special. But it doesn’t mean you have to negate other people and their creative selves.”

“We have to demand to be taken seriously.” - talks about fees & salaries and the stereotypes & expectations that come with each.

“We’re allowed to enter certain spheres and it’s easier if you look the part. Today, as a Black female, I do not look the part... in this climate, as Black females, we wouldn’t get signed.” - talks about being a woman in pop today.

“Be your authentic self. To be taken seriously, make sure your creative endeavour is true and give your whole self to your creative endeavour. That has to be enough.” - on talent, hard work & why that should be more important than the way you look. “The gatekeepers are the ones deciding about ‘look’, not society at large.”

“To recruit allies, I think you need to go to the people who you think would be allies and say ‘We need your help’ and explain how until they get it.” - talks about racism in football, the need to act as a team & the lessons we can take from that.

“Globally, I’m the majority and I have a say. I take that mentality with me wherever I go” - on the attitude she takes into a room even when she’s the only woman there.

“Allies, your sense of achievement will be great. You have helped a just and a good cause.”

What advice would she give her younger self? “Keep on working on self because that’s all we can do. And anything is possible if we work really really hard.”

“Keep on fighting the good fight. You’ve got an idea in your head, and people may laugh. But so what! It takes a lot to embarrass me or shame me - I’m happy with me.” - advice to her 18 year old self.
— Musician's Union Twitter